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Liverpool Echo
Liverpool Echo
Olivia Williams

Mum went straight to GP after seeing social media post

A mum who thought she had irritable bowel syndrome was later diagnosed with cancer.

Gemma Crossley, from Wigan, said she had bowel issues "for years" but always put this down to IBS. The now 41-year-old said her symptoms progressed and she started having more and frequent pain.

However, it was when Gemma saw a post from the late bowel cancer campaigner Deborah James - known as Bowelbabe - that she went straight to her GP.

READ MORE: Girl, 4, playing on iPad suddenly cries 'mummy I can't breathe'

Speaking to the ECHO, Gemma said: "I have had bowel issues for years but always put this down to IBS and thought it was normal for me."

An examination carried out by a doctor found Gemma had a lump, but doctors told her they were "90% sure it wasn't cancer but there was 10% it could be". The 41-year-old was referred to specialists and was later diagnosed with bowel cancer in December 2020.

Gemma added: “If it wasn’t for Debs, I’m not sure when I would’ve been diagnosed. I’d spent years with bowel issues, which I’d always put down to irritable bowel syndrome. I had never thought it was cancer.

"Then a post from Deb was a real red flag for me. So, I went back to the GP as the pain was getting worse and I had noticed some bleeding. It was then that they found a lump, and I was referred straight away. I owe Debs so much for that post."

Gemma Crossley, from Wigan (Cancer Research UK/Gemma Crossley)

The mum-of-two to Jack, 16, and Mia, 15, added: “It was an awful and isolating time for me going through it all during covid. My husband, Andrew, couldn’t come to anything with me. He had to stay outside while I had chemo, and he couldn’t visit during my stay in hospital for the surgery. I was all by myself, it was dreadful, but I’m alive.

“Bowel cancer can affect anyone. Get to know what’s normal for you, and if you’re worried about changes, speak to your GP. I had stage three lower rectal cancer and I had no idea. So getting checked might just save your life.”

Gemma underwent five weeks of radiotherapy at The Christie in Manchester, followed by four rounds of chemotherapy and extensive surgery at the Royal Albert Edward Infirmary in Wigan - which left her with a permanent colostomy bag.

By July 2021, doctors told Gemma there was no sign of cancer, and that autumn she took part in her first Race for Life event. Gemma has now been chosen to sound the horn to start Cancer Research UK’s Race for Life.

It will be an emotional moment when she stands on the start line of the event at Haydock Park Racecourse, as it will mark the milestone of being two years clear of bowel cancer. More than 1,000 people are set to take part in this year’s Race for Life at Haydock Park Racecourse on July 2, where Gemma will be cheering participants on.

Gemma added: “Race for Life is such a great cause. The money helps so many people. By contributing to the research that’s being done now, we can help improve the future. If people hadn’t donated to Race for Life in previous years, I might not have had the treatment that I had to save my life. By taking part, you can help the scientists develop more treatments and have fun at the same time.”

Gemma Crossley, from Wigan (Cancer Research UK/Gemma Crossley)

Cancer Research UK’s Race for Life, in partnership with headline sponsor Standard Life, part of Phoenix Group, is an inspiring series of 3k, 5k, 10k, Pretty Muddy, and Pretty Muddy Kids events which raise millions of pounds every year to help beat cancer by funding crucial research.

This year, people are being offered the opportunity to sign up to Race for Life for Bowelbabe and take part in their local Race for Life event in memory of Dame Deborah James.

Cancer Research UK’s spokesperson in the North West, Jemma Humphreys, said: “We are grateful to Gemma for her support. We’d love for as many people as possible across the region to join us during our 30th year of Race for Life. Sadly, cancer affects all of us in some way.

“We want to make sure that everyone can join the Race for Life movement. Our participants come from different backgrounds, with different stories, but with one thing in common - the determination to help beat cancer. Whether people are living with cancer, taking part in honour of or in memory of a loved one with cancer, or signing up to protect their own children’s future, everyone has a reason to Race for Life.

“We’ve seen survival rates in the UK double in the last forty years thanks to the tireless efforts of researchers, but this can only happen with the continued support of fundraisers up and down the country.

“Together we can bring about a future free from the fear of cancer. So we’re asking people across the region: Who will you Race for?”

Cancer Research UK’s Race for Life, in partnership with headline sponsor Standard Life, part of Phoenix Group, raises funds for world-class research to help beat 200 types of cancer - including bowel cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer, lung cancer, testicular cancer, brain cancer, children’s cancers and leukaemia.

Chief executive of Standard Life, part of Phoenix Group, Andy Curran, said: “We are extremely proud to have been chosen as the headline sponsor of Cancer Research UK’s Race for Life. This sponsorship will help encourage participation and raise funds for life-saving research to help beat cancer.”


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